FEA­TURE

The Di­min­ish­ing Blue Whale

Asian Diver (English) - - News - By Wayne Jones

For 60 years, the blue whales of the Antarc­tic-In­dian Ocean were mas­sa­cred by com­mer­cial whalers. They are now one of the most en­dan­gered of the whales, but sci­en­tists are only just dis­cov­er­ing their in­te­gral im­por­tance to the ocean

In 1964, the guns fell si­lent. A mas­sacre lay be­fore them, a fa­mil­iar sight from the re­lent­less slaugh­ter of blue whales in the last 60 years that brought a species to its bi­o­log­i­cal knees and the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

With the ad­vent of the in­dus­trial age, a mod­ern way to “har­vest” whales saw the evo­lu­tion of a global in­dus­try that op­er­ated with in­creas­ing sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion. A lack of sci­en­tific

– Clapham and Hatch (2000)

rea­son­ing meant an ab­sence of a sus­tain­able limit or yearly quota, and num­bers rapidly de­clined to a point al­most be­yond a species’ ge­netic abil­ity to con­tinue.

Prior to in­dus­tri­alised whal­ing, the num­ber of blue whales was es­ti­mated at around 260,000 (now thought to be an ex­tremely con­ser­va­tive fig­ure) in the Antarc­tic-In­dian Ocean group alone, but from 1904 to1964, in­dus­tri­alised whal­ing saw this num­ber plum­met to a mere thou­sand or so.

Sri Lanka pro­vides a rare op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with and pho­to­graph the largest of be­ings known to have lived on this planet.

For the sake of con­ser­va­tion, a small num­ber of divers are given this priv­i­lege, ven­tur­ing out in small boats with guides who are also col­lect­ing photographic data of flukes for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of in­di­vid­u­als. Just like a hu­man fin­ger­print, each fluke has a unique ap­pear­ance.

Now num­ber­ing an es­ti­mated 10,000 to 25,000 glob­ally, blue whales are still con­sid­ered one of the most en­dan­gered of the “great” whales. With records in­di­cat­ing some 26,500 blue whales slaugh­tered each year in the In­dian Ocean, it’s a won­der how they are not al­ready ex­tinct. Sadly, new threats from in­creased ship strikes, aban­doned fish­ing nets, ocean float­ing plas­tics and global warm­ing pose a chal­lenge to the ge­nealog­i­cal re­cov­ery and sta­bil­ity of the species.

With the end of le­gal whal­ing, two whale sanc­tu­ar­ies have been es­tab­lished by the In­ter­na­tional

Whal­ing Com­mis­sion (IWC) in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. One is the South­ern Ocean waters sur­round­ing Antarc­tica, and the other is in the In­dian Ocean sur­round­ing Sri Lanka.

“The com­mer­cial hunt­ing of whales in the 20th cen­tury rep­re­sents what was ar­guably – in

terms of sheer biomass – the great­est wildlife ex­ploita­tion

episode in hu­man his­tory”

ABOVE: IM­AGE: Wayne Jones

The re­moras, or suck­er­fish, at­tached to the tails of blue whales go on an air­borne ride on a reg­u­lar sched­ule. Many can be ob­served all over the whale’s body

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